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What are the top, middle and base perfume notes?

Much like how various shades of colours turn into a painting, fragrance notes are required to make a perfume. There are three note scales that when blended together create the perfumers accord. Each of these layers has its own purpose.

The top notes

Also sometimes known as the opening notes, the top notes of a fragrance are usually the lightest of all the notes. They are immediately apparent once the perfume has been applied. The top notes are also the first to fade away given their light molecular structure, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t the most important of the three accords.

Think of [top notes] as the first thing that hits you. Sometimes these are called the opening notes or head notes. This is often a note that dissipates and doesn’t last on the skin – says Pacifica founder and CEO, Brook Harvey-Taylor.

The opening notes of a fragrance give the first impression. There must have been numerous times you have tested a fragrance only to be put off right away? Why? Because the top notes didn’t make a good impression on you. It is extremely important that the top notes not only succeed at making you love the perfume, but also help to gently transport you into the heart of the fragrance.

Common perfume top notes include citrus (orange, lemon, lime, bergamot), light fruits (grapefruit, berries), floral (orchid, ylang ylang, violet, mimosa) and herbs (saffron, cumin, clary sage, lavender).

The Middle Notes

The middle notes, or the heart notes, become apparent once the top notes dissipate. Heart notes help make the perfume become more enticing over time and will normally stay on your skin for between four to six hours after application, depending on the quality of the perfume that is used. They last longer than the top notes and have a big influence on the base notes yet to come. A perfume’s heart is generally well-rounded and pleasant. It is ofen a smooth combination of floral or fruit tones; sometimes infused with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom.

When perfumers refer to notes, it’s like notes in music — it’s the elements that come together to compose the fragrance’s formula – Olivier Gillotin, Master Perfumer and the creative mind behind Ralph Lauren Fragrances

Common fragrance middle notes include geranium, rose, lemongrass, lavender, coriander, nutmeg, neroli and jasmine.

The Base Notes

The base notes are the scents that linger on for many hours, some base notes found in high quality perfumes will last many days, most will usually last around twelve to twenty-four hours. Base notes materialise towards the end of the heart notes, adding fullness and depth to a fragrance. The ingredients here form the depth of the perfume and they don’t surface till around thirty minutes after application. The job of the base notes is to provide your signature scent from your favourite perfume. It is the base notes that will stick to your skin and clothes for many hours, when all other notes have evaporated. The base notes are thos that are remembered, it is those notes that will transport you back to a beloved memory.

Common fragrance base notes include oudh, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, patchouli and musk.

When composing scents, there are descriptors that are separated into a three-tier pyramid: top, middle, and bottom. The notes represent what will be sensed on fragrance application – says Carina Chaz, founder of a fragrance brand.

Without these three levels of notes, a fragrance wouldn’t be as appealing, there is also a market for many people who love single note fragrances like patchouli, nag champa, gardenia etc.

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  1. user

    Very interesting article.

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